Creating and hosting ASP.NET Core application on Linux — Nothing Third-Party

Introduction and Background

It has been a while since I wanted to write something about ASP.NET Core hosting stuff, and Kestrel was something that was interesting from my own perspective. Previously I have written a bunch of stuff to cover up the basics of ASP.NET Core programming and in this one I will guide you on hosting the ASP.NET Core application natively, using the .NET Core libraries that you download while installation process. Secondly, it has been a while since I have had written anything at all and I might have forgotten the interests of my readers so excuse me if I miss out a few things.

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Figure 1: Image captured from Scott Hanselman’s blog.

There is a lot of stuff to share in this post today, so stay tuned and hold your breath basically. I will be covering the following steps in this article:

  1. Installation of the latest version of .NET Core on Linux environment
    • If you already have a .NET Core framework installed, upgrade your system if that doesn’t support ASP.NET programming as of now.
    • In the previous versions, web development wasn’t support in .NET Core for Linux operating systems. In the recent versions, it has been added to the recent versions now so that is why I insist that before continuing you at least install the latest version of .NET Core.
  2. Setup an ASP.NET Web Application in your Linux environment.
    • I will guide you through many stages, such as development, editing, maintenance and using an IDE for all of these things.
    • I will walk you through many different areas (not the ASP.NET Area!) in ASP.NET web application’s file hierarchy, plus I will tell you what is back and what is about to change (or subject to change in the hierarchy).
  3. Build and run the project
    • In this section, I will guide you through a few of the tips that would deem helpful to you.
    • Before running, I will give you an overview of Kestrel — web server for ASP.NET 5.
    • I will then move onwards to using the website, which has the same feel as it had in Windows operating system, while developing ASP.NET web applications.
    • Tip: I will then give you a tip, by default, application is uploaded at 5000 port, which you would require to change in many cases, I will show you how to change the port of the web application’s hosting service.
  4. Finally, I will head over to final words that I put at the end of every post that I write on any of the platform that I have to write about.

Installing or upgrading .NET Core

I wrote an article that covered how you can start using .NET Core on Linux environments, you can read it here. That article was written entirely, to give you a concept of the .NET Core architecture, and a few commands that you can use to do most of the stuff. The only difference between the older article and this section of the post is that this would just contain a later version of .NET Core to be installed on the system. Whereas in the previous one you had to install the older one.

Try the following,

sudo apt-get update && dist-upgrade

If that doesn’t work, or it doesn’t show the updates, head over to the main website for .NET Core, and install the latest version from there.

Creating a new web application

Previously, .NET Core only supported creating libraries or console applications. At the moment, it supports ASP.NET web application development too, it supports the templates for ASP.NET too, at the moment just a simple ASP.NET MVC oriented web application is created, and I don’t think there is any need for other templates like Web API, SignalR, single page applications etc. I believe that is complete at the moment.

To create a new web application, create the new project in .NET Core and pass the type parameter as a web application, which would guide .NET Core (dotnet) to create a new application with the template of web application.

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Figure 2: Creation of a new .NET Core project using web template. 

As you can see in the command above, we are passing a type (-t parameter) to the command to create a new web templated application. The content is as following,

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Figure 3: ASP.NET Web application files and directories in .NET Core. 

The project looks similar to what we have on Windows environment. Just a difference of one thing: It includes, web.config as well as project.json file. Remember that Microsoft is mostly moving back to MSBuild and of course a few of the hosting modules are based on IIS servers so that is why web.config file is available in the project. However, the project at the moment uses project.json file for project-level configuration and (as we have heard mostly during these days) these would be migrated to MSBuild way of managing the project and other related stuff.

Editing and updating the web application

Microsoft has been pushing the limits since a while, of course on Linux you already had a few of the best tools for development but Visual Studio Code is still a better tool. In my previous posts, I said that I don’t like it enough — I still don’t like it very much, it needs work! — but it is better than many tools and IDEs available for C# or .NET-related programming. Since in this post I said that I won’t be talking about anything third-party, so Visual Studio Code is the tool that I am going to suggest, support and use in this case.

You can install Visual Studio Code from their official website, note one thing, the Debian packages take a little longer for installation, so if you also don’t like to wait too much like me then I would recommend that you download the archive packages and install the IDE from them. There is no installation required at all, you just move the extracted files to a location where you want to store it. FInally, you create a symbolic link to your executable, which can be done like this,

sudo ls -s /home/username/Downloads/VSCode-linux-x64/code /usr/local/bin/code

This would create link and you can use Visual Studio Code IDE just by executing this “code” command anywhere in the directory (using the terminal), it would then load the directory itself as a project in the IDE which you can then use to update your application’s source code and other stuff that you want to.

Tip: Install the C# extension from market place for a greater experience.

Once this is done, head over to the directory where you create the project. Execute the following command,

code .

This would trigger Visual Studio Code to load your directory as the project in the IDE. This is how my environment looks like,

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Figure 4: Visual Studio Code showing the default ASP.NET directory as a project.

The rest is history — I mean the rest is the similar effect, and feeling that you can get on Windows environment. First of all, when you work this way and follow my lead you will get the following errors in the IDE window.

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Figure 5: Error messages in Visual Studio Code.

We will fix them in a moment. But at first, understand that these are meant to act like this. If you have had ever programmed in .NET Core, you must have known that before anything else you need to restore the NuGet packages for your project before even building the project. Visual Studio Code uses the same IntelliSense and tries to tell you what is going wrong. In doing so, it requires the binaries which are not available so you are shown that last error message. Above two are optional, middle one is a bit optional-required.

Build and run the project

Until this point we have had created the project. But now we need to restore the dependencies for our project which are going to be used by the .NET Core to actually execute our code. By default a lock file is not generated, so we need to create a new file and after that we would be able to build the project.

Execute the following command,

dotnet restore

After this, .NET Core would automatically generate the lock file and building process can be easily triggered.

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Figure 6: Project.lock.json file created after restoring the project.

We can continue to building the project. I want you to pay attention to this point now. See what happens.

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Figure 7: Build and run process of ASP.NET web application on .NET Core.

Now notice a few things in the above terminal window. First of all, notice that it keeps logging everything. Secondly, notice that it has a port “5000” appended. We didn’t train it to use that at all, and that also didn’t come from Program.cs file either (you can see that file!). But before I dig any deeper in explanation of how to change that, I want you to praise KestrelThe web server of ASP.NET 5. Kestrel is the implementation of libuv async I/O library that helps hosting the ASP.NET applications in a cross-platform environment. The documentation for kestrel and the reference documentation is also available, and you can get started reading most of the documentation about Kestrel, on the namespace Microsoft.AspNetCore.Server.Kestrel at the ASP.NET Core reference documentation website.

This is the interesting part because ASP.NET Core can run even on a minimal HTTP listener that can act as a web server. Kestrel is a new web server, it isn’t a full feature web server but adapts as community needs updates. it supports HTTP/1 only as of now but would support other features in the coming days. But remember, pushing every single feature and module in one server would actually kill the major purpose of using the .NET Core itself. .NET Core isn’t developed to push everything on the stack, but instead it is developed to use only the modules and features that are required.  Yes, if you want to add a feature you can update the code and build the service yourself. It is open sourced on GitHub.

Changing the port number of application

In many cases, you might want to change the port number where your server listens or you may also want to make this server the default server for all of your HTTP based communication on the network. In such cases, you must be having a special port number assigned (80-for default).

For that, head over to your Program.cs file, that is the main program file (main function of your project), and that is responsible for creating a hosting wrapper for your web application in ASP.NET Core environment. The current content for this object is,

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Figure 8: Source code for the Program.cs file.

In that chain of “Use” functions, we just need to add one more function call to use a special URL. The function of “UseUrls(“”)” would allow us to update the URLs that are to be used for this web application. So I am just going to use that function here so that it would let us simply select which URL (and port) to use.

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FIgure 9: URLs being managed.

Now, if you try to run the application you will run into the following problem in Linux-based system.

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Figure 10: Unable to bind to the URL given, error message.

That is pretty much simple — it doesn’t have permission to do the trick. So what on Linux systems is done is that it simply is performed using the superuser credentials and account.

sudo dotnet run

It would prompt you for your password, enter your password and this time application would run on the localhost:80. In the cases where you have to upload the website to the servers, Azure App Services etc. In these cases, you are requires to have the application running under the server that acts as the default server, so in those cases you must handle the default TCP port for HTTP communication for the requests. Otherwise, you might require to work at the backends of NGINX or Apache servers etc. But that is a different story.

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Figure 11: Web server running at port 80.

Now that our server is running, we can now go to a web browser to test it out. I am going to use Firefox, you can use any web browser (even a terminal-based).

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Figure 12: ASP.NET Core web application being rendered in Firefox, running in Linux using Kestrel web server.

As you can see, the web application runs smoothly. Plus, it also logs any event that takes place. The terminal keeps a record of that, it can also allow you to actually transfer the output from main terminal’s output to a file stream to store everything. But that is a topic for a different post.

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Figure 13: ASP.NET web application’s log in terminal window.

As requests come and responses are generated, this window will have more and more content.

Final words

I have wanted since a while, to write my own next web application for my own blog and stuff, in ASP.NET Core. At the moment, the framework is “almost” ready for production, but just not yet. Maybe in a couple of next builds it will be ready. There are many things that they need to look into. For example, the web server needs to be more agile — the features needs to be provided. That is not it, VIsual Studio Code must be fully integrated with ASP.NET Core tooling. At the moment it just allows us to edit the code, then we have to go back to the terminal to do the rest. It should provide us with the ability to do that.

To Microsoft’s team related to .NET Core: Why isn’t .NET Core being published on Linux? I am pretty much sure the framework is fully function, despite the bugs. But there are bugs in the main .NET framework too, there are some minor issues every here and there. My major concern here is to be able to do, “sudo apt-get install dotnet”. I can’t remember the longer version names.

To readers: If you are willing to use ASP.NET Core for your production applications, wait for a while. Althought ASP.NET Core is a better solution than many other solutions available. But my own recommendation is to stick to ASP.NET 4.6 as of now because that is more stable version as compared to this one.

A quick startup using .NET Core on Linux

I know you may be thinking… This post is another rhetoric post by this guy, yes it is.🙂 .NET Core is another product that I like, the first one being, .NET framework itself. It was last year when .NET Core got started and Microsoft said they are going to release the source code as a part of their open source environment and love. By following the open source project environment and ethics, Microsoft has been working very hard in bringing global developers toward their environments, platforms and services. For example, .NET framework works on Windows, C# language is used to build Windows Store applications, C# is also the primary language in Microsoft’s web application development framework, ASP.NET and much more. The online cloud service of Microsoft is also programmed in C#; primarily. These things are interrelated to each other. Thus, when Microsoft brings all of this as an open source project, things start to get a lot better!

Everyone knows about the background of .NET Core, if you don’t know, I recommend that you read the blog post on Microsoft, Introducing .NET Core. The(ir) basic idea was to provide a framework that would work with any platform, any application type and any framework to be targeted.

Introduction and Background

In this quick post, I will walk you through getting started with .NET Core, installing it on a Linux machine and I will also give my views as to why install .NET Core on a Linux machine instead of Windows machine, I will then walk you through different steps of .NET Core programming and how you can use terminal based environment to perform multiple tasks. But first things first.

I am sure you have heard of .NET Core and other of the cool stuff that Microsoft has been releasing these years, From all of these services the ones that I like are:

  1. C# 6
    • In my own opinion, I think the language looks cleaner now. These sugar-coated features make the language easier to write too. If you haven’t yet read, please read my previous blog post at, Experimenting with C# 6’s new features.
  2. .NET Core
    • Of course, who wouldn’t love to use .NET on other platforms.
  3. Xamarin acquisition
    • I’m going to try this one out tonight. Fingers crossed.
  4. Rest are all just “usual” stuff around.

In this post I am going to talk about .NET Core on Linux because I have already talked about the C# stuff.

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Figure 1: .NET Core is a cross-platform programming framework by Microsoft.

Why Linux for .NET Core?

Before I dive any deeper, as I had said, I will give you a few of my considerations for using .NET Core on Linux and not on Windows (yet!) and they are as following. You don’t have to take them seriously or to always consider them, they are just my views and my opinions, you are free to have your own.

1. .NET Core is not yet complete

It would take a while before .NET gets released as a public stable version. Until then, using this bleeding edge technology on your own machines won’t be a good idea and someday sooner you will consider removing the binaries. In such cases, it is always better to use it in the virtual machine somewhere. I have set up a few Linux (Ubuntu-based) virtual machines for my development purposes, and I recommend that you go the same.

  1. Install VirtualBox (or any other virtualization software that you prefer; I like VirtualBox for its simplicity).
  2. Set up an Ubuntu environment.
    • Remember to use Ubuntu 14.04. Later ones are not yet supported yet.
  3. Install the .NET Core on that machine.

If something goes wrong. You can easily revert back where you want to. If the code plays dirty, you don’t have to worry about your data, or your machine at all.

2. Everything is command-line

Windows OS is not your OS if you like command-line interfaces. I am waiting for the BASH language to be introduced in Windows as in Ubuntu, until then, I am not going to use anything that requires a command-line interface to be used on my Windows environment. In Linux, however, everything almost has a command-line interface and since the .NET Core is a command-based program by Microsoft that is why I have enjoyed using it on Linux as compared to Windows.

Besides, on command-line interface, creating, building and running a .NET Core project is as simple as 1… 2… 3. You’ll see how, in the sections below.🙂

3. I don’t use Mac

Besides these points, the only valid point left is then why shouldn’t we use Mac OS for .NET Core is because I don’t use it. You are free to use Mac OS for .NET Core development too. .NET Core does support it, its just that I don’t support that development environment.😀

Installation of .NET Core

Although it is intended that soon, the command would be as simple as:

$ sudo apt-get install dotnet

Same command is used on Mac OS X and other operating systems other than Ubuntu and Debian derivatives. But until the .NET Core is in development process that is not going to happen. Until then, there are other steps that you can perform to install the .NET Core on your own machine. I’d like to skip this part and let Microsoft give you the steps to install the framework.

Installation procedure of .NET Core on multiple platforms.

After this step, do remember to make sure that the platform has been installed successfully. In almost any environment, you can run the following command to get the success message.

> dotnet --help

If .NET is installed, it would simply show the version and other help material on the screen. Otherwise, you may want to make sure that that procedure did not incur any problems during the installation of the packages. Before I get started, I want to show you the help material provided with “dotnet” command,

afzaal@afzaal-VirtualBox:~/Projects/Sample$ dotnet --help
.NET Command Line Tools (1.0.0-preview1-002702)
Usage: dotnet [common-options] [command] [arguments]

Arguments:
 [command]      The command to execute
 [arguments]    Arguments to pass to the command

Common Options (passed before the command):
 -v|--verbose   Enable verbose output
 --version      Display .NET CLI Version Number
 --info         Display .NET CLI Info

Common Commands:
 new           Initialize a basic .NET project
 restore       Restore dependencies specified in the .NET project
 build         Builds a .NET project
 publish       Publishes a .NET project for deployment (including the runtime)
 run           Compiles and immediately executes a .NET project
 test          Runs unit tests using the test runner specified in the project
 pack          Creates a NuGet package

So, you get the point that we are going to look deeper into the commands that dotnet provides us with.

  1. Creating a package
  2. Restoring the package
  3. Running the package
    • Build and Run both work, run would execute, build would just build the project. That was easy.
  4. Packaging the package

I will slice the stuff down to make it even more clearer and simpler to understand. One thing that you may have figured is that the option to compile the project natively is not provided as an explicit command in this set of options. As far as I can think is that this support has been removed until further notice. Until then, you need to pass a framework type to compile and build against.

Using .NET Core on Linux

Although the procedure on both of the environments is similar and alike. I am going to show you the procedure in Ubuntu. Plus, I will be explaining the purpose of these commands and multiple options that .NET provides you with. I don’t want you feel lonely here, because most of the paragraphs here would be for Microsoft team working on .NET project, so I would be providing a few suggestions for the team too. But, don’t worry, I’ll make sure the content seems to be and remain on-topic.

1. Creating a new project

I agree that the framework development is not yet near releasing and so I think I should consider passing on my own suggestions for the project too. At the moment, .NET Core supports creating a new project in the directory and uses the name of the directory as the default name (if at all required). Beginners in .NET Core are only aware of the commands that come right after the “dotnet”. However, there are other parameters that collect a few more parameters and optional values such as:

  1. Type of project.
    • Executable
      • At the moment, .NET only generates DLL files as output. Console is the default.
    • Dynamic-link library
  2. Language to be used for programming.

To create a new project, at the moment you just have to execute the following command:

$ dotnet new

In my own opinion, if you are just learning, this is enough for you. However, if you execute the following command you will get an idea of how you can modify the way project is being created and how it can be used to modify the project itself, including the programming language being used.

$ dotnet new --help
.NET Initializer

Usage: dotnet new [options]

Options:
 -h|--help Show help information
 -l|--lang <LANGUAGE> Language of project [C#|F#]
 -t|--type <TYPE> Type of project

Options are optional. However, you can pass those values if you want to create a project with a different programming language such as F#. You can also change the type, currently however, Console applications are only supported.

I already had a directory set up for my sample testing,

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Figure 2: Sample directory open. 

So, I just created the project here. I didn’t mess around with anything at all, you can see that the .NET itself creates the files.

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Figure 3: Creating the project in the same directory where we were.

Excuse the fact that I created an F# project. I did that so that I can show that I can pass the language to be used in the project too. I removed that, and instead created a C# program-based project. This is a minimal Console application.

In .NET Core applications, every project contains:

  1. A program’s source code.
    • If you were to create an F# project. Then the program would be written in F# language and in case of default settings. The program is a C# language program.
  2. A project.json file.
    • This file contains the settings for the project and dependencies that are to be maintained in the project for building the project.

However, once you are going to run you need to build the project and that is what we are going to do in the next steps.

2. Restoring the project

We didn’t delete the project. This simply means that the project needs to be restored and the dependencies need to be resolved before we can actually build to run the project. This can be done using the following command,

$ dotnet restore

Note: Make sure you are in the working directory where the project was created.

This command does the job of restoring the packages. If you try to build the project before restoring the dependencies, you are going to get the error message of:

Project {name} does not have a lock file.

.NET framework uses the lock file to look for the dependencies that a project requires and then starts the building and compilation process. Which means, this file is required before your project can be executed to ensure “it can execute”.

After this command gets executed, you will get another file in the project directory.

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Figure 4: Project.lock.json file is now available in the project directory.

And so finally, you can continue to building the project and to running it on your own machine with the default settings and setup.

3. Building the project

As I have already mentioned above, the native compilation support has been removed from the toolchain and I think Ubuntu developers may have to wait for a while and this may only be supported on Windows environment until then. However, we can somehow still execute the project as we would and we can perform other options too, such as publishing and NuGet package creation.

You can build a project using the following command,

$ dotnet build

Remember that you need to have restored the project once. Build command would do the following things for you:

  1. It would build the project for you.
  2. It would create the output directories.
    • However, as I am going to talk about this later, you can change the directories where the outputs are saved.
  3. It would prompt if there are any errors while building the project.

We have seen the way previous commands worked, so let’s slice this one into bits too. This command, too, supports manipulation. It provides you with optional flags such as:

  1. Framework to target.
  2. Directory to use for output binaries.
  3. Runtime to use.
  4. Configuration etc.

This way, you can automate the process of building by passing the parameters to the dotnet script.

4. Deploying the project

Instead of using the term running the project, I think it would be better if I could say deploying the project. One way or the other, running project is also deployed on the machine before it can run. First of all, the project I would show to be running, later I will show how to create NuGet packages.

To run the project, once you have built the project or not, you can just execute the following command:

$ dotnet run

This command also builds the project if the project is not yet built. Now, if I execute that command on my directory where the project resides, the output is something like this on my Ubuntu,

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Figure 5: Project output in terminal.

As seen, the project works and displays the message of, “Hello World!” on screen in terminal. This is a console project and a simple project with a console output command in C# only. That is why the program works this way.

Creating NuGet packages

Besides this, I would like to share how you can create the NuGet package from this project using the terminal. NuGet packages have been in the scene since a very long time and they were previously very easy to create in Visual Studio environment. Process is even simpler in this framework of programming. You just have to execute the following command:

$ dotnet pack

This command packs the project in a NuGet package. I would like to show you the output that it generates so that you can understand how it is doing everything.

afzaal@afzaal-VirtualBox:~/Projects/Sample$ dotnet pack
Project Sample (.NETCoreApp,Version=v1.0) was previously compiled. 
Skipping compilation.
Producing nuget package "Sample.1.0.0" for Sample
Sample -> /home/afzaal/Projects/Sample/bin/Debug/Sample.1.0.0.nupkg
Producing nuget package "Sample.1.0.0.symbols" for Sample
Sample -> /home/afzaal/Projects/Sample/bin/Debug/Sample.1.0.0.symbols.nupkg

It builds the project first, if the project was built then it skips that process. Once that has been done it create a new package and simply generates the file that can be published on the galleries. NuGet package management command allows you to perform some other functions too, such as updating the version number itself, it also allows you to specify framework etc. For more, have a look at the help output for this command,

afzaal@afzaal-VirtualBox:~/Projects/Sample$ dotnet pack --help
.NET Packager

Usage: dotnet pack [arguments] [options]

Arguments:
 <PROJECT> The project to compile, defaults to the current directory. 
 Can be a path to a project.json or a project directory

Options:
 -h|--help Show help information
 -o|--output <OUTPUT_DIR> Directory in which to place outputs
 --no-build Do not build project before packing
 -b|--build-base-path <OUTPUT_DIR> Directory in which to place temporary build outputs
 -c|--configuration <CONFIGURATION> Configuration under which to build
 --version-suffix <VERSION_SUFFIX> Defines what `*` should be replaced with in version 
  field in project.json

See the final one, where it shows the version suffix. It can be used to update the version based on the build version and so on. There is also a setting, which allows you modify the way building process updates the version count. This is a widely used method for changing the version number based on the build that produced the binary outputs.

The NuGet package file was saved in the default output directory.

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Figure 6: NuGet package in the default output directory.

Rest is easy, you can just upload the package from here to the NuGet galleries.

Final words

Finally, I was thinking I should publish a minimal ebook about this guide. The content was getting longer and longer and I was getting tired and tired, however since this gave me an idea about many things I think I can write a comparison of .NET Core on Windows and Linux and I think I have enough time to do that.

Secondly, there are few suggestions for end users that I want to make.

  1. Do not use .NET Core for commercial software. It is going to change sooner,
  2. .NET Core is a bleeding edge technology and well, since there is no documentation, you are going to waste a lot of time in learning and asking questions. That is why, if you are considering to learn .NET framework, then learn the .NET framework and not .NET Core. .NET framework has a great amount of good resources, articles, tips and tutorials.
  3. If you want cross-platform features and great support like .NET framework, my recommendation is Mono Project over .NET Core maybe because it is yet not mature.

I have a few feedback words on the framework itself.

  1. It is going great. Period.
  2. Since this is a cross-platform framework, features must not be available Windows-only such as that “dotnet compile –native” one. They must be made available to every platform.

At last, the framework is a great one to write programs for. I enjoyed programming for .NET Core because it doesn’t require much effort. Plus, the benefit of multiple programming languages is still there, Besides, Visual Studio Code is also a great IDE to be used and the C# extension makes it even better. I will be writing a lot about these features these days since I am free from all of the academics stuff these days.🙂

See you in the next post.

Highlighting the faces in uploaded image in ASP.NET web applications

Introduction and Background

Previously, I was thinking we can find the faces in the uploaded image, so why not create a small module that automatically finds the faces and renders them when we want to load the images on our web pages. That was a pretty easy task but I would love to share what and how I did it. The entire procedure may look a bit complex, but trust me it is really very simple and straight-forward. However, you may be required to know about a few framework forehand as I won’t be covering most of the in-depth stuff of that scenario — such as computer vision, which is used to perform actions such as face detection.

In this post, you will learn the basics of many things that range from:

  1. Performing computer vision operations — most basic one, finding the faces in the images.
  2. Sending and receiving content from the web server based on the image data uploaded.
  3. Using the canvas HTML element to render the results.

I won’t be guiding you throughout each and everything of the computer vision, or the processes that are required to perform the facial detection in the images, for that i would like to ask you to go and read this post of mine, Facial biometric authentication on your connected devices. In this post, I’ll cover the basics of how to detect the faces in ASP.NET web application, how to pass the characters of the faces in the images, how to use those properties and to render the faces on the image in the canvas.

Making the web app face-aware

There are two steps that we need to perform in order to make our web applications face aware and to determine whether there is a face in the images that are to be uploaded or not. There are many uses, and I will enlist a few of them in the final words section below. The first step is to configure our web application to be able to consume the image and then render the image for processing. Our image processing toolkit would allow us to find the faces, and the locations of our faces. This part would then forward the request to the client-side, where our client itself would render the face locations on the images.

In this sample, I am going to use a canvas element to draw objects, whereas this can be done using multiple div containers to contain span elements and they can be rendered over the actual image to show the face boxes with their positions set to absolute.

First of all, let us program the ASP.NET web application to get the image, process the image, find the faces and generate the response to be collected on the client-side.

Programming file processing part

On the server-side, we would preferably use the Emgu CV library. This library has been of a great usage in the C# wrappers list of OpenCV library. I will be using the same library, to program the face detectors in ASP.NET. The benefits are:

  1. It is a very light-weight library.
  2. The entire processing can take less than a second or two, and the views would be generated in a second later.
  3. It is better than most of other computer vision libraries; as it is based on OpenCV.

First of all, we would need to create a new controller in our web application that would handle the requests for this purpose, we would later add the POST method handler to the controller action to upload and process the image. You can create any controller, I used the name, “FindFacesController” for this controller in my own application. To create a new Controller, follow: Right click Controllers folder → Select Add → Select Controller…, to add a new controller. Add the name to it as you like and then proceed. By default, this controller is given an action, Index and a folder with the same name is created in the Views folder. First of all, open the Views folder to add the HTML content for which we would later write the backend part. In this example project, we need to use an HTML form, where users would be able to upload the files to the servers for processing.

The following HTML snippet would do this,

<form method="post" enctype="multipart/form-data" id="form">
  <input type="file" name="image" id="image" onchange="this.form.submit()" />
</form>

You can see that this HTML form is enough in itself. There is a special event handler attached to this input element, which would cause the form to automatically submit once the user selects the image. That is because we only want to process one image at a time. I could have written a standalone function, but that would have made no sense and this inline function call is a better way to do this.

Now for the ASP.NET part, I will be using the HttpMethod property of the Request to determine if the request was to upload the image or to just load the page.

if(Request.HttpMethod == "POST") {
   // Image upload code here.
}

Now before I actually write the code I want to show and explain what we want to do in this example. The steps to be performed are as below:

  1. We need to save the image that was uploaded in the request.
  2. We would then get the file that was uploaded, and process that image using Emgu CV.
  3. We would get the locations of the faces in the image and then serialize them to JSON string using Json.NET library.
  4. Later part would be taken care of on the client-side using JavaScript code.

Before I actually write the code, let me first show you the helper objects that I had created. I needed two helper objects, one for storing the location of the faces and other to perform the facial detection in the images.

public class Location
{
    public double X { get; set; }
    public double Y { get; set; }
    public double Width { get; set; }
    public double Height { get; set; }
}

// Face detector helper object
public class FaceDetector
{
    public static List<Rectangle> DetectFaces(Mat image)
    {
        List<Rectangle> faces = new List<Rectangle>();
        var facesCascade = HttpContext.Current.Server.MapPath("~/haarcascade_frontalface_default.xml");
        using (CascadeClassifier face = new CascadeClassifier(facesCascade))
        {
            using (UMat ugray = new UMat())
            {
                CvInvoke.CvtColor(image, ugray, Emgu.CV.CvEnum.ColorConversion.Bgr2Gray);

                //normalizes brightness and increases contrast of the image
                CvInvoke.EqualizeHist(ugray, ugray);

                //Detect the faces from the gray scale image and store the locations as rectangle
                //The first dimensional is the channel
                //The second dimension is the index of the rectangle in the specific channel
                Rectangle[] facesDetected = face.DetectMultiScale(
                                                ugray,
                                                1.1,
                                                10,
                                                new Size(20, 20));

                faces.AddRange(facesDetected);
            }
        }
        return faces;
    }
}

These two objects would be used, one for the processing and other for the client-side code to render the boxes on the faces. The action code that I used for this is as below:

public ActionResult Index()
{
    if (Request.HttpMethod == "POST")
    {
         ViewBag.ImageProcessed = true;
         // Try to process the image.
         if (Request.Files.Count > 0)
         {
             // There will be just one file.
             var file = Request.Files[0];

             var fileName = Guid.NewGuid().ToString() + ".jpg";
             file.SaveAs(Server.MapPath("~/Images/" + fileName));

             // Load the saved image, for native processing using Emgu CV.
             var bitmap = new Bitmap(Server.MapPath("~/Images/" + fileName));

             var faces = FaceDetector.DetectFaces(new Image<Bgr, byte>(bitmap).Mat);

             // If faces where found.
             if (faces.Count > 0)
             {
                 ViewBag.FacesDetected = true;
                 ViewBag.FaceCount = faces.Count;

                 var positions = new List<Location>();
                 foreach (var face in faces)
                 {
                     // Add the positions.
                     positions.Add(new Location
                     {
                          X = face.X,
                          Y = face.Y,
                          Width = face.Width,
                          Height = face.Height
                     });
                 }

                 ViewBag.FacePositions = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(positions);
            }

            ViewBag.ImageUrl = fileName;
        }
    }
    return View();
}

The code above does entire processing of the images that we upload to the server. This code is responsible for processing the images, finding and detecting the faces and then returning the results for the views to be rendered in HTML.

Programming client-side canvas elements

You can create a sense of opening a modal popup to show the faces in the images. I used the canvas element on the page itself, because I just wanted to demonstrate the usage of this coding technique. As we have seen, the controller action would generate a few ViewBag properties that we can later use in the HTML content to render the results based on our previous actions.

The View content is as following,

@if (ViewBag.ImageProcessed == true)
{
    // Show the image.
    if (ViewBag.FacesDetected == true)
    {
        // Show the image here.
        <img src="~/Images/@ViewBag.ImageUrl" alt="Image" id="imageElement" style="display: none; height: 0; width: 0;" />

        <p><b>@ViewBag.FaceCount</b> @if (ViewBag.FaceCount == 1) { <text><b>face</b> was</text> } else { <text><b>faces</b> were</text> } detected in the following image.</p>
        <p>A <code>canvas</code> element is being used to render the image and then rectangles are being drawn on the top of that canvas to highlight the faces in the image.</p>

        <canvas id="faceCanvas"></canvas>

        <!-- HTML content has been loaded, run the script now. -->
        
            // Get the canvas.
            var canvas = document.getElementById("faceCanvas");
            var img = document.getElementById("imageElement");
            canvas.height = img.height;
            canvas.width = img.width;

            var myCanvas = canvas.getContext("2d");
            myCanvas.drawImage(img, 0, 0);

            @if(ViewBag.ImageProcessed == true && ViewBag.FacesDetected == true)
            {
            
            img.style.display = "none";
            var facesFound = true;
            var facePositions = JSON.parse(JSON.stringify(@Html.Raw(ViewBag.FacePositions)));
            
            }

            if(facesFound) {
                // Move forward.
                for (face in facePositions) {
                    // Draw the face.
                    myCanvas.lineWidth = 2;
                    myCanvas.strokeStyle = selectColor(face);

                    console.log(selectColor(face));
                    myCanvas.strokeRect(
                                 facePositions[face]["X"],
                                 facePositions[face]["Y"],
                                 facePositions[face]["Width"],
                                 facePositions[face]["Height"]
                             );
               }
           }

           function selectColor(iteration) {
               if (iteration == 0) { iteration = Math.floor(Math.random()); }

               var step = 42.5;
               var randomNumber = Math.floor(Math.random() * 3);

               // Select the colors.
               var red = Math.floor((step * iteration * Math.floor(Math.random() * 3)) % 255);
               var green = Math.floor((step * iteration * Math.floor(Math.random() * 3)) % 255);
               var blue = Math.floor((step * iteration * Math.floor(Math.random() * 3)) % 255);

               // Change the values of rgb, randomly.
               switch (randomNumber) {
                   case 0: red = 0; break;
                   case 1: green = 0; break;
                   case 2: blue = 0; break;
               }

               // Return the string.
               var rgbString = "rgb(" + red + ", " + green + " ," + blue + ")";
               return rgbString;
           }
        
    }
    else
    {
        <p>No faces were found in the following image.</p>

        // Show the image here.
        <img src="~/Images/@ViewBag.ImageUrl" alt="Image" id="imageElement" />
    }
}

This code is the client-side code and would be executed only if there is an upload of image previously. Now let us review what our application is capable of doing at the moment.

Running the application for testing

Since we have developed the application, now it is time that we actually run the application to see if that works as expected. The following are the results generated of multiple images that were passed to the server.

Screenshot (427)

The above image shows the default HTML page that is shown to the users when they visit the page for the first time. Then they will upload the image, and application would process the content of the image that was uploaded. Following images show the results of those images.

Screenshot (428)

I uploaded my image, it found my face and as shown above in bold text, “1 face was detected…”. It also renders the box around the area where the face was detected.

Screenshot (429)

Article would have never been complete, without Eminem being a part of it!🙂 Love this guy.

Screenshot (426)

Secondly, I wanted to show how this application processed multiple faces. On the top, see that it shows “5 faces were detected…” and it renders 5 boxes around the areas where faces were detected. I also seem to like the photo, as I am a fan of Batman myself.

Screenshot (430)

This image shows what happens if the image does not contain a detected face (by detected, there are many possibilities where a face might not be detected, such as having hairs, wearing glasses etc.) In this image I just used the three logos of companies and the system told me there were no faces in the image. It also rendered the image, but no boxes were made since there were no faces in the image.

Final words

This was it for this post. This method is useful in many facial detection software applications, many areas where you want the users to upload a photo of their faces, not just some photo of a scenery etc. This is an ASP,NET web application project, which means that you can use this code in your own web applications too. The library usage is also very simple and straight-forward as you have already seen in the article above.

There are other uses, such as in the cases where you want to perform analysis of peoples’ faces to detect their emotions, locations and other parameters. You can first of all perform this action to determine if there are faces in the images or not.

From zero to hero in JSON with C#

Introduction and Background

I have been reading many posts and articles about JSON and C# where every article tries to clarify the purpose of either one thing, or the other thing: JSON or C# libraries. I want to cover both of these technologies in one post so that if you have no idea of JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), and the C# libraries available for processing and parsing the JSON files you can understand these two concepts fully. I will try my best to explain each and every concept in these two frameworks and I will also try to publish the article on C# Corner and to share an offline copy of this post as an eBook, so excuse me if you find me sliding through different writing formats because I have to stick to both writing styles in order to qualify this post as an article and as a miniature guide.

When I started to do a bit of programming, I knew there were many data-interchange formats, serialization and deserialization techniques and how objects can be stored including their states in the disk to fetch the same data back for further processing and further working on the same objects that you just left while you were going outside. Some of these techniques are tough to be handled and understood while others are pretty much framework-oriented. Then comes JSON into the image, JSON provides you with a very familiar and simple interface for programming the serialization and deserialization of the objects on runtime so that their states can be stored for later use. And we are going to study JSON notation of data-interchange and how we can use this format in C# projects for our applications.

What is JSON?

I remember when I was starting to learn programming there was this something called, Extensible markup language, or as some of us know it as, XML. XML was used to convert the runtime data of the objects or the program states or the configuration settings into a storable string notation. These strings were human-readable. Programmers could even modify these values when they needed to, added more values or removed the values they didn’t want to see in the data.

Introduction of XML

For a really long time and even today, XML is being used as the format for data-interchange. Many protocols for communication are built on the top of XML, most notably SOAP protocol. XML didn’t even power a few of the protocols, it even kick-started many of the most widely known and used markup languages, of which HTML and XAML are the ones that most of you are already familiar with.

xml-file
Figure 1: XML file icon.

History has it, XML has been of a great use to many programmers for building applications that share the data across multiple machines. The world wide web started with the pages written in a much XML-oriented way, markup language called, HTML.

The purpose of XML entirely was to design the documents in plain-text that can be human-readable and can be used by the machines to define the state of applications, program or interfaces.

  1. State of applications: You can store the object states, which can be loaded later for further processing of the data. This would allow you to maintain the states of the applications too.
  2. Program: XML can be used to define the configuration of the programs when they start up. Microsoft has been using web.config and machine.config files to define how a program would start. Programmers and developers can easily modify the files as they needed them to. This would alter the design of the way program starts.
  3. Interfaces: HTML is being used to define how the user-interface would look like. Windows Presentation Foundation uses XAML as the major language for designing the interfaces. Android supports XML-based markup language for defining the UI controls.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

Empty XML documents are not meant to contain any blank object or document tree. They can be omitted.

This is not it. XML is much more than this, WCF, for example supports SOAP communication. Which means that you can download and upload the data in XML format. ASP.NET Web API supports data transfer in the form of XML documents.

Usage of XML

I want to show you how XML is used, then why shouldn’t I used something that comes from a real-world example. RSS for example, uses XML-based documents for delivery of feeds to the clients. I am using the same technology feature on my blog to deliver the blog posts to readers and other communities. The basic XML document for a single post would look like this,

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<rss version="2.0"
    xmlns:atom="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom"
    xmlns:media="http://search.yahoo.com/mrss/">

<channel>
    <title>Learn the basics of the Web and App Development</title>
    <atom:link href="https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/feed/" rel="self" type="application/rss+xml" /> 
    <link>https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com</link>
    <description>The basics about the Web Standards will be posted on my blog. Love it? Share it! Found an error, ask me to edit the post! :)</description>
    <lastBuildDate>Fri, 03 Jun 2016 09:48:29 +0000</lastBuildDate>
    <language>en</language>
    <generator>http://wordpress.com/</generator>
    <cloud domain='basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com' port='80' path='/?rsscloud=notify' registerProcedure='' protocol='http-post' />
    <image>
         <url>https://s2.wp.com/i/buttonw-com.png</url>
         <title>Learn the basics of the Web and App Development</title>
         <link>https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com</link>
    </image>
    <atom:link rel="search" type="application/opensearchdescription+xml" href="https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/osd.xml" title="Learn the basics of the Web and App Development" />
    <atom:link rel='hub' href='https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/?pushpress=hub'/>
    <item>
        <title>Hashing passwords in .NET Core with tips</title>
        <link>https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/hashing-passwords-in-net-core-with-tips/</link>
        <comments>https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/hashing-passwords-in-net-core-with-tips/#respond</comments>
        <pubDate>Fri, 03 Jun 2016 08:42:49 +0000</pubDate>
        <dc:creator><![CDATA[Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan]]></dc:creator>
        <category><![CDATA[Beginners]]></category>
        <category><![CDATA[C# (C-Sharp)]]></category>
        <guid isPermaLink="false">https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/?p=1313</guid>
        <description>
            <![CDATA[Previously I had written a few stuff for .NET framework and how to implement basic security concepts on your applications that are working in .NET environment. In this post I want to walk you to implement the same security concepts in your applications that are based on the .NET Core framework. As always there will be […]<img alt="" border="0" src="https://pixel.wp.com/b.gif?host=basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com&blog=59372306&post=1313&subd=basicsofwebdevelopment&ref=&feed=1" width="1" height="1" />]]>
        </description>
    </item>
</channel>
</rss>

Of course I snipped out most of the part, but you get the point of XML here. This data can be read by humans themselves, and if the machine is set to parse this data it can provide us with runtime association of data with the objects. In a much similar manner, we can share the data from one machine to another by serializing and deserializing the objects.

What is the need of JSON, then?

JSON comes into the frame back in 1996 or around that time. The purpose of XML and JSON is similar: Data-interchange among multiple devices, networks and applications. However, the language syntax is very much similar to what C, C++, Java and C# programmers have been using for their regular day “object-oriented programming“; pardon me C programmers. The language syntax is very similar to what JavaScript uses for the notation of objects. JSON provides a much compact format for the documents for storing the data. JSON data, as we will see in this guide, is much shorter as compared to XML and in many ways can be (and should be…) used on the network-based applications where each byte can be a bottleneck to your application’s performance and efficiency. I wanted to take this time to disgust XML, but I think your mind will consider my words as personal and bias views. So, first I will talk about JSON itself how it is structured and then I will talk about using the time to show the difference between JSON and XML and which one to prefer.

JSON format and specifications were shared publicly as per ECMA-404. The document guides the developers to find their APIs in such a way that they work as per the teachings of the standard. API developers, programmers, serialization/deserialization software developers can get much help from the documentation in understanding how to define their programs to parse and stringify the JSON content.

Structure of JSON

JSON is an open-standards document format for human-readable and machine-understandable serialization and deserialization of data. Simply, it is used for data-interchange. The benefit of JSON is that it has a very compact size as compared to XML documents of the same purpose and data. JSON stores the data in the form of key/value pairs. Another benefit of JSON is (just like XML) it is language-independent. You can work with JSON data in almost any programming language that can handle string objects. Almost every programming framework that I can think of most of the programming frameworks support JSON-based data-interchange. For example, ASP.NET Web API supports JSON format data transfer to-and-from the server.

The basic structure of JSON document is very much simple. Every document in JSON must have either an object at its root, or an array. Object and array can be empty there is no need for it to contain anything in it, but there must be an object or an array.

A sample, and simple JSON document can be the following one:

{ }

What that means, is something that I am going to get into a bit later. At the moment just understand that this is a blank JSON document about any object in the application. A JSON document can contain other data in the form of key/value pairs, that are of the following types:

  1. Object
  2. Array
  3. String; name or character.
  4. Integer; numeric
  5. Boolean; true or false
  6. Null.

Note that JSON doesn’t support all of the JavaScript keywords, such as you cannot use “undefined” in a valid JSON schema. Nothing is going to stop you from using it in your files, but remember that valid JSON schema should not include such values. One more thing to consider is that JSON is not executable file, although it shares the same object notation but it doesn’t allow you to create variables. If you try to add a few variables to it, it would generate errors. Now I would like to share a few concepts for the valid data types in JSON and what they are and how you should use them in your own JSON data files.

JSON data types

JSON data types are the valid values that can be used in JSON files. In this section I want to clarify the values that they can hold, how you can use them in your own project data-interchange formats.

JSON Object

At the root of the JSON document, there needs to be either a JSON object or a JSON array. In JavaScript and in many other programming languages an object is denoted by curly braces; “{ }”. JSON uses the same notation for denoting the objects in the JSON file. In JSON files, objects only contain the properties that they have. JSON can use other properties, other data types (including objects) as the value for their properties. How that works, I will explain that later in this course guide, but for now just consider that each of the runtime object is mapped to one JSON object in the data file.

In the case of an object, there are properties and their values that are enclosed inside the opening and closing curly braces. These are in the form of a key/value pair. These key value sets are separated using a colon, “:” and multiple sets are separated using a comma, “,”. An example of the JSON object is as follows:

{
  "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
  "age": 20
}

Even the simplest of the C#, Java or C++ programmers would understand what type these properties are going to hold. It is clear that the “name” property is of “string” type and the “age” property is of integer type.

There are however a few things that you may need to consider at the moment:

  1. An object can contain any number of properties in it.
  2. An object can omit the properties; being an empty object.
  3. All the property names (keys) are string values. You cannot omit the quotation around the key name. It is required, otherwise JSON would claim that it was expecting a string but found undefined.
  4. Key/value sets are separated by a colon character, whereas multiple sets are separated using a comma. You cannot add trailing commas in the JSON format, some of the APIs may through error. For example, JSON.parse(‘[5, ]’); would return an error.

I will demonstrate the errors in a later section because at the moment I want to show you and teach you the basics of JSON. But, I will show you how these things work.

By now the type of the JSON object is clear to you. One thing to keep in mind is that JSON object is not only meant to be used as the root of the JSON document. It is also used as a value for the properties of the object, which allows the JSON document to contain the entire data in the form of relationship with objects; only difference being that the objects are anonymous.

JSON Arrays

Like JavaScript, JSON also supports storing the objects in a sequence, series or list; what-ever you would like to put it as. Arrays are not complex structures in JSON document. They are:

  1. Simple.
  2. Start with a square bracket, and end on the same.
  3. Can contain values in a sequence.
  4. Each value is separated by a comma (not a colon).
  5. Value can be of any type.

A sample JSON array would look something like this,

[ "Value 1", "Value 2" ]

You can store any type of value in the array, unlike other programming language such as C# or C++. The type of the values is not mandatory to be similar. That is something that pure C# or C++ programmers cannot fathom in the first look. But, guys, this is JavaScript. I used JSONLint service to verify this, later I will show you how it works in JavaScript.

Screenshot (1642)
Figure 2: JSONLint being used for verification of JSON validity.

In JavaScript, the type doesn’t need to be matched of the arrays. So, for example you can do the following thing and get away with it without anything complaining about type of the objects.

var arr = [ "Hello", 55, {} ];

So, JSON being a JavaScript-derived document format, follows the same convention. JSON leaves the idea of type casting to the programmer, because this is performed only in the context of strongly typed programming languages such as C++, C# etc. JavaScript, being weakly typed doesn’t care about the stuff at all. So, it can take any type in an array as long as it doesn’t violate other rules.

Upcoming data types are similar to what other programming languages have, such as strings, integers and boolean values. So, I will try to not-explain them as much as I have had explained these two.

JSON Strings

String typed values are the values which contain the character-type values. In many programming environments, strings are called, arrays of characters. In JavaScript, you can use either single quotes or double quotes to wrap the string values. But, in JSON specification you should always consider using double quotation. Using single quotation may work and should work in JavaScript environment but in the cases when you have to share the data over the network to a type-safe programming environment such as where C++ or C# may be used as the programming language. Then your single quotes may cause a runtime error when their parsers would try to read a string starting as a character.

In JSON, strings are similar and you have been watching strings in the previous code samples. A few common examples of string values in JSON are as following:

// Normal string
"Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan"

// Same as above, but do not use in JSON
'Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan'

// Escaping characters, outputs: "\"
"\"\\\"" 

// Unicode characters
"\u0123"

In the above example, you see that we can use many characters in our data. We can:

  1. Build normal strings such as C# or C++ strings.
    • JSON standard forbids you from using the single quotation because you may be sending the data over to other platforms.
  2. Escaping the characters is required in strings. Otherwise, the string would result in undefined behavior. You can use the similar string escaping provided in other languages such as:
    • \”
    • \\
    • \/
    • \b
    • \f
    • \n
    • \r
    • \t
    • \u-4-hex-numbers
  3. Unicode characters (as specified in the last element of above list) are also supported in JSON, you can specify the Unicode character code here.

One thing to consider is that your objects’ attributes (properties) are also keyed using a string value.

{
    "key": 1234
}

The value of a property can be anything, but the key must always be a string. The strings in JSON, JavaScript, C++, C# and Java are all alike and have the same value for each of the sentence. Unicode characters are supported and need not to be escaped. For original JSON website, I got this image,


Figure 3: JSON string structure.

Thus, the strings are similar in JSON and other frameworks (or languages).

JSON Integers

Just like strings, integers are also the literal values in the JSON document that are of numeric type. They are not wrapped in quotations, if they are then they are not numeric types, instead they are of string type.

A few examples of integer values are:

// Simple one
1234

// Fractional
12.34

// Exponential
12e34

You can combine fractional and exponential too. You can also append the sign of the number (negative – or positive +) with the number itself. In JSON these types can also be used as the values. If you take a look at the example above in a few sections above, you can see that I had used the age as an integer value for my property. A few things that you should consider while working with JSON data is:

  1. In exponential form, “e” and “E” are similar.
  2. It must never end with “e”.
  3. Number cannot be a NaN.
  4. Number encoding and variable size should be considered. JavaScript and other language may differ in encoding the variable size for the numberics and may cause an overflow.

JSON Boolean

Boolean values indicate the results of a conditional operation on an expression. Such as, “let him in, if he is adult”. JSON supports storing values in their literal boolean notation. They are similar to what other programming languages have in common. They must also not be wrapped in quotation as they are literals. If a boolean value is wrapped in quotation then it is not a boolean value but instead it is a string value.

// Represents a true result
true

// Represents a false result
false

These must be written as they are because JavaScript is case-sensitive and so is JSON. You can use these values to denote the cases where other types cannot make much sense compared to what this can make, sense. For example, you can specify the gender of the object.

{
    "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
    "age": 20, 
    "gender": true
}

I didn’t use “male”, instead I used “true”. On the other side I can then translate this condition to another type such as,

if(obj.gender) {
    // Male
} else {
    // Female
}

This way, other than strings and numeric values we can store boolean values. These would help us structure the document in a much simpler, cleaner and programmer-readable format.

JSON null

C based programmers understand what a null is. I have been programming in programming languages such as, C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript and I have used this keywords where the objects do not exist. There are other programming languages such as Haskell, where this doesn’t make much sense. But, since we are just talking about JavaScript and languages like it, we know what null is. Null just represents when an object doesn’t exist in the memory. In JavaScript, this means the “intentional absence” of the object. So in JavaScript environment a null object does exist but has no value. In other languages it is the other way around; it doesn’t even exist.

It just has a single notation,

null

It is a keyword and must be typed as it is. Otherwise, JavaScript-like error would pop up, “undefined“. This can help you in sending the data which doesn’t exist currently. For example, in C# we can use this to pass the values from database who are nullable. There are nullable types in C#, which we can map to this one.  For example, the following JSON document would be mapped to the following C# object:

{
    "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
    "age": null
}

C# object structure (class)

class Person {
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public int? Age { get; set; }      // Nullable integer.
}

And in the database if the field is set to be nullable, we can set it to that database record. This way, JSON can be used to notably denote the runtime objects in a plain-string-text format for data-interchange.

Examples of use

I don’t want to stretch this one any longer. JSON has been widely accepted by many companies even Microsoft. Microsoft was using the web.config file in XML format for configuration purposes of the application. However, since a while they have upgraded their systems to parse and use the settings provided in a much JSON way. JSON is very simpler and easier to handle.

Microsoft started to use JSON format to handle the settings for their Visual Studio Code product. JSON allows extension of the settings, which helps users to add their own modifications and settings to the product.

I have been publishing many articles about JSON data sources and I think, if I started to use JSON then it was a sign of success of JSON over XML.🙂

  1. Creating a “customizable” personal blog using ASP.NET
  2. Understanding ASP.NET MVC using real world example, for beginners and intermediate

There are many other uses of JSON and my personal recommendation is with JSON if you can use JSON over XML. However, if you are interested in XML or are supposed to use XML such as when using SOAP protocol. Otherwise, consider using JSON.

Errors in JSON

No, these are not errors in the JSON itself, but a few errors that you may make while writing the JSON documents yourself. This is why, always consider using a library.

Trailing commas

As already mentioned above, the trailing commas in the JSON objects or arrays cause a problem. The parser may think that there is another property to come but unexpectedly hits a terminating square or curly bracket. For example the following are invalid JSON documents:

{ "k": "v",  }    // Ending at a comma

[ 123, "", ]      // Ending at a comma

These can be overcame if you:

  1. First of all, write your own parsers.
  2. Make them intelligent enough to know that if there is no property, they can ignore adding a property, simply.
  3. If there is no more value in the array after the comma, it means the array ended at the previous token.

However, present parsers are not guaranteed to be intelligent enough so my recommendation is to ignore this.

Ending with an “e” or “E”

If you end your numbers in exponential form with a e, you are likely to get an error of undefined. You know what that means, don’t you? It is always better to end it is a proper format following the specification.

Undefined

Each property name must be a string token. In JavaScript you can do the both of the following:

var obj = { "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan" };

// OR
var obj = { name: "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan" };

But in JSON you are required to follow the string-based-key-names method of creating and defining the object properties. In JSON, if you do the following you will get error,

{ 
   name: "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan"
}

Because, name is undefined. Parser may consider it to be a variable somewhere but JSON documents cannot be executed so there is no purpose of JavaScript variables to be there. Some libraries may render the results for your documents even if you leave your property names un-stringed. But, don’t consider everything to be server always follow the specifications.

C# side of article

To this point I hope that JSON is as simple as 1… 2… 3. for you! If not, please let me know so that I can make it even more clear. But, in this section I want to talk about using JSON in your C# projects. In this section I am going to talk about the libraries that are available in C#, or more specifically I am going to talk about JSON.NET library. I will use this library to explain how JSON can be used to save the state of the objects. How you can create a JSON file, how you can parse it to create objects on runtime and how serialization and deserialization works.

This section will be a real world section covering the methods and practices that you can use to use JSON in your own applications. I will cover most of the C# programming part in this section so that you can understand and learn how to program JSON in your .NET environment.

JSON.NET library

I am specifically just going to walk you through JSON.NET library. JSON.NET is a widely used JSON parser for .NET framework. I have been using this library for a very long time and I personally this is one of the best APIs out there for JSON parsing.

Screenshot (1669)
Figure 4: Json.NET comparison with other popular JSON serializers.

I will use the objects provided in this library just to demonstrate how you can parse JSON files to runtime objects, and how you can create JSON strings (serialize the objects) using the objects provided to the serializer. By the end of this post you will be able to create your own JSON-oriented-and-backed applications in .NET framework (or any framework that supports C# programming).

Creating the object for this guide

In C#, we create classes to work around with real-world objects. We can then use this library to convert the runtime structure of that object to a storable JSON document that can be used to:

  1. Send over the network.
  2. Save on the disk.
  3. Save for loading the object in that state later.

Many other uses. The counterpart of this process is the deserialization of the objects in runtime structures from their JSON notation. First of all, I will create a sample class that we are going to use to convert to JSON format and from the JSON format.

class Person
{
    public int ID { get; set; }
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public bool Gender { get; set; }
    public DateTime DateOfBirth { get; set; }
}

This object has the following diagram.

Screenshot (1670)
Figure 5: Person class diagram.

Frankly speaking, this object can be created in C++, it can be created in Java and it can be created in JavaScript too. If we use JSON for serializing this object, or the number of objects that can be transmitted over the network to the peers on the networks. Since we have stringified the data in JSON notation, we now can parse the string data in other languages too. Every other programming language has a JSON parser library.

We can redefine the structures in other programming languages and then use a JSON parser library to convert this string over the network in those machines too. I am going to cover C# part of programming only.

A few things that you might want to know here before we move forward. I have used the datatype of “DateTime” because I wanted to show how derived types are converted to when they are being serialized to JSON notation. So, let’s begin the C# programming to understand the relative stuff in their C# counterparts.

Serializing the objects

In programming, serialization is the process of converting the runtime objects to a plain-text string format. In other words, it converts the object structure from memory to a format that can be stored on the disk. Serialization just translates the state of the objects, which is that it just translates the properties of the object to the format that can be used to store them for later use. You can think of it as synchronization process, where you store the current state of the objects on the disk so that you can load the data later and start your work from the state where you left it instead of starting from scratch again.

Since we are talking about JSON here, we are interested in the conversion of objects in their JSON notation for storage (serialization) and then in the upcoming section to convert the JSON document into runtime objects and data structures (deserialization). Simply, we are going to see how to convert the JSON into objects and vice versa.

To serialize the object, you need an object that holds the data in itself. The object would have a state in the application. We then call the library functions to serialize the objects in their JSON notation. Like this,

// Create the person
Person myself = new Person { 
                    ID = 123, 
                    Name = "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan", 
                    Gender = true, 
                    DateOfBirth = new DateTime(1995, 08, 29) 
                };

// Serialize it.
 string serializedJson = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(myself);

// Print on the screen.
 Console.WriteLine(serializedJson);

The function is called to serialize the object which (as clearly seen) return a string object. This object holds the JSON notation for the object. The output returned was like this, (yes, I formatted the JSON document for readability)

{
    "ID": 123,
    "Name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
    "Gender": true,
    "DateOfBirth": "1995-08-29T00:00:00"
}

We create store the data in a file, send it on the network or do what we have to. I am not going to cover that part because I think (and believe) that this is totally relative to your application design and how it is expected to work. Now, we need to understand how it happened.

The ID, Name and Gender are the types that you have already seen. However the last field was actually of type DateTime which got translated to string type in JSON. Why? The answer is simple, JSON doesn’t provide a native DateTime object to store the date and time values. Instead, they use string notation to store the date value. The string value is very much self-explanatory as to what the year is, what month and what value date has. The time part is also clearly visible.

One thing to note here is that C# and JSON can agree on using the “null” value for objects too. Thus if the name is set to a null value, JSON can support the same value of null in its own document format. In the next section, we will study how JSON is mapped to the objects.

Deserializing the JSON

In data-interchange, this is the counterpart of the serialization process. In this process, we take the JSON document and parse it the runtime object (collection). There are many libraries available that can be used for parsing purposes however I am going to talk about the same one that I had been using to demonstrate the usage in C# programming environment. The method is very simple in this case too, However, I am going to use a JSON formatted string variable to use to parse it to the object.

Note: You can use values from files, networks, web APIs and other resources from where you can get the JSON formatted document. Just for the sake of simplicity I am going to use a string variable to hold the values.

The sample JSON data can be like the following,

string data = "{\"ID\": 123,\"Name\": 
               \"Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan\",\"Gender\": 
               true,\"DateOfBirth\": \"1995-08-29T00:00:00\"}";

I used the following code to deserialize the JSON document.

// Serialize it.
Person obj = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<Person>(data);

// Print on the screen.
Console.WriteLine(obj.ID);

Now notice one thing here. This “DeserializeObject” function has two versions.

  1. A plain non-generic version.
  2. A generic version.

If you use the non-generic version, then in C# you are going to use the dynamic object creation in C# and then we will be using the properties. For example, like the code below:

dynamic obj = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject(data);

Console.WriteLine(obj.ID);

Using that dynamic keyword would allow you to bypass the compile time check and allow you to get the “ID” property at a later time. This can be handy when you don’t want to create a class and deserialize against.

However, the version that I am using at the moment is different. It uses a type-parameter that is passed as a generic parameter; angled brackets, and Json.NET deserializes the JSON document and fills up our objects. We can also have array of objects, this way instead of “convincing” the program to iterate over the collection. We can first of all have the JSON parsed as an array of objects and so on. This would help us shorten the code and to check the stuff at all.

var listOfObjects = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<List<Person>>(data);

Notice that we are passing a “List<>” object. Library would convert the stuff into the list of the objects and we can then use the collection for iterative purposes.

Some errors

There are a few errors that I would like to raise here, which might help you in understanding how JSON works. I will update this section later as I collect more data on this topic.

Type mismatch

If you try to deserialize the JSON of one type (such as, an object) into a type where it cannot be converted to (such as, an array). Library will raise an error. So do the following:

  1. Either make sure which type to convert to. Or
  2. Do not convert to a generically passed type, instead use dynamic keyword to deserialize the object and then check its type later on runtime. That still doesn’t guarantee it to work.

My recommendations

Finally, I want to give you a few of my own personal experience tips. In my experience I started to work with data on a database system; SQL Server CE I remember. But later I had to create applications which required a bit complex structures and were not going to last another weak. So in such conditions, using a database table was not a good idea. Instead, I had to use a sample and temporary data source. During those days, XML was a popular framework as per my peers. JSON was something that most didn’t understand. So, in my own humble opinion, you should go with JSON, where:

  1. Data needs to be shared cross-platform, cross-browser and cross-server. Databases may be helpful, but even they need serialization and stuff like that.
  2. You just need to test the stuff. You can target your Model to the JSON parsers and then in release mode change them to the actual data sources.

That is not it, the size of JSON is “amazingly” compact as compared to XML. For example, have a look here:

// JSON
{
 "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
 "age": 20,
 "emptyObj": { }
}

// XML
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<name>Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan</name>
<age>20</age>
<emptyObj />

Even in the cases where JSON has nothing in it, XML is bound to have that declaration line. Then other problems come around, such as sending an array, or sending out a native type object. In JSON you can do this,

true

In XML, you don’t have any “true” type. So, you are bound to send something extra. Which can cause to be a bottleneck in the networking transmission. I have been writing many articles, blogs and guides and most of them are based on JSON if not on SQL Server.

Hashing passwords in .NET Core with tips

Previously I had written a few stuff for .NET framework and how to implement basic security concepts on your applications that are working in .NET environment. In this post I want to walk you to implement the same security concepts in your applications that are based on the .NET Core framework. As always there will be 2 topics that I will be covering in this post of mine, I did so before but since that was for .NET itself, I don’t think that works with .NET Core. Besides, .NET Core is different in this matter as compared to .NET framework, one of the major reasons being that there is no “SHA256Managed” (or any other _Managed types in the framework). So the framework is different in this manner. This post would cover the basic concepts and would help you to understand and get started using the methodologies for security.

Security_original
Figure 1: Data security in your applications is the first step for gaining confidence in clients.

First of all, I would be covering the parts of hashing and I will give you a few of my tips and considerations for hashing the passwords using .NET Core in your applications. Before I start writing the article post, I remember when I was working in Mono Project and the platform was very easy to write for. I was using Xamarin Studio as IDE and the Mono was the runtime being used at that time, in my previous guide although the focus was on the Mono programming on Ubuntu whereas in this post I will covering the concepts of same but with .NET Core. .NET Core is really beautiful, although it is not complete, yet it is very powerful. I am using the following tools at the moment so in case that you want to set up your own programming environment to match mine, you can use them.

  1. IDE: Visual Studio Code.
  2. C# extension: For C# support and debugging
  3. Terminal: Ubuntu provides a native terminal that I am using to execute the command to run the project after I have done working with my source code.

Screenshot (967)
Figure 2: Visual Studio being used for C# programming using .NET Core.

You can download and install these packages on your own system. If you are using Windows, I am unaware as to what Visual Studio Code has to offer, because since the start of Visual Studio Code I have just used it on Ubuntu and on Windows systems my preference is always Visual Studio itself. Also, I am going to use the same project that I had created and I am going to start from there, A Quick Startup Using .NET Core On Linux.

So, let’s get started…🙂

Hashing passwords

Even before starting to write it, I am considering the thunderstorm of comments that would hit me if I make a small and simple mistake in the points here, such as:

  1. Bad practices of hashing.
  2. Not using the salts.
  3. Bad functions to be used.
  4. Etc.

However, I will break the process down since it is just a small program that does the job and there is no very less exaggeration here. Instead of talking about that, I will walk you through many concepts of hashing and how hackers may try to get the passwords where hashing helps you out.

Until now I have written like 3 to 4 articles about hashing, and I can’t find any difference in any of these codes that I have been writing. The common difference is that there are no extra managed code stuff around. .NET Core removed everything redundant in the code samples. So we are left with the simple ones now that we would be using.

What I did was that I just created a simple minimal block of the SHA256 algorithm that would hash the string text that I am going to pass. I used the following code,

// SHA256 is disposable by inheritance.
using (var sha256 = SHA256.Create()) {
    // Send a sample text to hash.
    var hashedBytes = sha256.ComputeHash(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes("hello world"));
 
    // Get the hashed string.
    var hash = BitConverter.ToString(hashedBytes).Replace("-", "").ToLower();
 
    // Print the string. 
    Console.WriteLine(hash);
}

This code is a bit different from the one being used in .NET framework. In the case of .NET framework the code starts as:

using (var sha256 = new SHA256Managed()) {
     // Crypto code here...
}

That is the only difference here, rest of the stuff is almost alike. The conversion of bytes into string text is upto you. You can either convert the bytes to hexadecimal strings or you can use the BitConverter helper to convert that to the text that is being represented.

The result of this code is,

Screenshot (968)
Figure 3: Result of the above shown code in C# being executed in Ubuntu terminal on .NET Core runtime. 

There is one another constraint here, “Encoding.UTF8“, if you use another encoding for characters then the chances are your hashed string would be different. You can try out other flavors of the character encodings such as:

  1. ASCII
  2. UTF-8
  3. Unicode (.NET framework takes Unicode encoding as UTF-16 LE)
  4. Rest of the encodings of Unicode etc.

The reason is that they provide a different byte ordering and this hashing function works on the bytes of the data that are passed.

Tips and considerations

There are generally two namespaces rising, one of them is the very old familiar .NET’s namespace, System.Security.Cryptography, whereas another one is Microsoft.AspNet.Cryptography which is a part of ASP.NET Core and are to be released. Anyways, here are a few of the tips that you should consider before handing the passwords.

Passwords are fragile — handle with care

I can’t think of any online service, offline privacy application, API hosts where passwords are not handled with care. If there is, I would still act as I never knew of it. Passwords must always be hashed before saving in the database. Hashing is done because hashing algorithms are created with one thing in mind, that they are hard (if not impossible) to convert back to plain-text passwords. This makes it harder for the hackers to get the passwords back in the real form. To explain this fact, I converted the code into a functional one and printed the hash with a little change in the text.

private static string getHash(string text) {
    // SHA512 is disposable by inheritance.
    using (var sha256 = SHA256.Create()) {
        // Send a sample text to hash.
        var hashedBytes = sha256.ComputeHash(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(text));
   
        // Get the hashed string.
        return BitConverter.ToString(hashedBytes).Replace("-", "").ToLower();
    }
}

I will execute this function and get the hashed string back for the text that have very less difference in them.

string[] passwords = { "PASSWORD", "P@SSW0RD", "password", "p@ssw0rd" };
 
foreach (var password in passwords) {
    Console.WriteLine($"'{password}': '{getHash(password)}'");
}

Although they seem to look alike but have a look at the avalanche effect that happens due to such small changes. Even have a look at the differences in the capital case and small case.

Screenshot (972)
Figure 4: Password hashes being shown in the terminal. 

This helps in many ways, because it is harder to guess what the possible plain-text alternate would be for this hashed string. Remember the constraints again,

  1. The character encoding is UTF-8; others would provide a different character encoding bytes ordering.
  2. Hash algorithm being used in SHA256, others would produce even different results.

If you don’t hash out the passwords, hackers may try to use most common attacks on your database system to gain privileges of access. A few common type of attacks are:

  1. Brute force attack
  2. Dictionary attack
  3. Rainbow table attack

Rainbow table attack work in a different manner, it tries to convert the hash back to the plain-text based on the database where a password/hash combination is present. Brute force and dictionary attacks use a guessing and commonly used passwords respectively, to gain access. You need to prevent these attacks from happening.

Besides there are cases where your password hashing is useless. Such as when you want to use MD5 hashing algorithms. MD5 algorithms can be easily cracked and the tables for entire password look up are already available and hackers can use those tables to crack your passwords that are hashed using MD5. Even SHA256, SHA512 don’t work as you are going to see in the following section. In such cases you have to add an extra layer of security.

Bonus: how to break it?

Before I continue further, I wanted to share the point of these passwords and their hashes being weaker. There are many hacking tools available, such as reverse look ups. Let us take our first password and see if that can be cracked. I used CrackStation service to crack the password and convert it back to its original text form,

Screenshot (975)
Figure 5: SHA256 based password converted back to its original form. 

See how inefficient even these tricks happen to be. In a later section I will show you how to salt the passwords and what the effect is. Although we had hashed it using SHA256, the reverse lookup table already has that password of ours. Hackers would just try to use that hash and get the real string value in the plain-text to be used for authentication purposes.

Slower algorithms

On networks where hackers are generally going to attack your websites with a script. You should have a hashing algorithm that is (not very) significantly slow. About half a second or 3rd of a second should be enough. The purpose is:

  1. It should add a delay to the attacker if they are trying to run a combination of passwords to gain access.
  2. It should not affect the UX.

There are many algorithms that keep the iterations to a number of 10,000 or so. The namespace that I had talked of, Microsoft.AspNet.Cryptography has the objects that allow you to specify the iteration, salt addition etc.

Remember: For online applications, do not increase the iteration count. You would indirectly cause a bad UX for the users who are waiting for a response.

Add salt to the recipe

I wonder who started the terminology of salt in cryptography. He must have a good taste in computers, I’d say. I did cover most of the parts of adding the salts in the article that I have added in the references section, please refer to that article. However, I would like to share the code that I have used to generate a random salt for the password. Adding the salt would help you randomize the password itself. Suppose, a user had a password of, “helloserver”, another one had the same password too. By default the hash would be alike but if you add a random salt to it, it would randomize the password.

In .NET Core, you can use the “RandomNumberGenerator” to create the salt that can be used for the password.

private static string getSalt() {
    byte[] bytes = new byte[128 / 8];
    using (var keyGenerator = RandomNumberGenerator.Create()) {
        keyGenerator.GetBytes(bytes);
 
        return BitConverter.ToString(bytes).Replace("-", "").ToLower();
    }
}

This would create a few random bytes and then would return them to be used for the passwords.

string[] passwords = { "PASSWORD", "P@SSW0RD", "password", "p@ssw0rd" };
 
foreach (var password in passwords) {
    string salt = getSalt();
    Console.WriteLine($@"{{
       'password': '{password}', 
       'salt': '{salt}',
       'hash': '{getHash(password + salt)}'
       }}"
    );
}

This shows how the passwords with “random salt” differ.

Screenshot (974)
Figure 6: Passwords with their salts being hashed. 

Have a look at the hashes now. The hashes differ from what they were before. Also, notice that the function returns a different salt every time which makes it possible to generate different hashes for even the similar passwords. One of the benefits of this is, that your passwords would be secure from a rainbow table attack.

Test: We saw that unsalted passwords are easy to be reverse looked up. In this, case, we salted the password and we are going to test the last of our password to see if there is a match.

Screenshot (976)
Figure 7: Password not found.

Great, isn’t it? The password was not matched against any case in the password dictionary. This gives us an extra layer of security because hacker won’t be able to convert the password back to their original form by using a reverse look up table.

Using salt: the good way

There is no good way of using the salt, there is no standard to be followed while adding the salt to the password. It is just an extra “random” string to be added to your password strings before their are hashed. There are many common ways, some add salt to the end, some prepend it some do the both.

Do as you please.🙂 There are however a few tips that you should keep in mind while salting the passwords.

  1. Do not reuse the salts.
  2. Do not try to extract the salts from the passwords or usernames.
  3. Use suitable salt size; 128-bit?
  4. Use random salt.
    • You should consider using a good library for generating the salts.
  5. Store the salts and passwords together. Random salts won’t be created again (in a near future).

References:

  1. Avalanche effect
  2. Hashing Passwords using ASP.NET’s Crypto Class
  3. Guide for building C# apps on Ubuntu: Cryptographic helpers
  4. What are the differences between dictionary attack and brute force attack?

Final words

In this post, I demonstrated the hashing techniques in .NET Core, although the procedure is similar and very much alike. There are a few differences that the objects are not similar. The object instantiation is not similar and in my own opinion, this is also going to change sooner.

I gave you a good overview of password hashing, how to crack them (actually, how an attacker may crack them) and how you can add an extra layer of security. Besides, you should consider adding more security protocols to your own application to secure it from other hacking techniques too.

A simple guide to setting up home server using IIS and ASP.NET

Hey everyone, it’s been a very long time since I wrote anything at all, my apologies, it had been my exams and I had been very busy these days. But, now I’m back. This time I am writing a guide to setting up your own personal server at home. Typically, I write about stuff from ground up, but for the sake of speed, I will like you to have a bit of background of a few of the things. I will try my best to cover them too, but excuse me if I miss a few things. These are because I want to cover a lot of things in this one single guide, and then I will write about other configurations and updates in a later post.

Introduction and Background

I had been working on ways to allow my family to communicate through proper use of their devices, however, every method required a third-party software to communicate. Plus, it required a working internet connection. If the requirement is just the connectivity and not the Internet-connectivity, I thought why not I create a server for home that would let us to communicate, share items without having to pass it through third-party networks, besides, who trusts them? That was not the main reason, the main reason that I also enjoyed building a server for the family.🙂

In this post, I will walk you guys through building your own web server, you can for sure then update the web application, configure the services as you need! In this post, I will walk you through the following:

  1. Setting up the server.
    • I am using Windows Server 2012 for my purposes. I will walk you through installation of IIS (Microsoft’s web server) and a few other components required. You can install other components as required.
    • Setting up an IP address to be used on your server.
  2. Setting up ASP.NET environment.
    • You do have to install ASP.NET components before IIS can execute ASP.NET code in your web application.
  3. Setting up Web Deploy.
    • I don’t do web development on server (AKA hosting) environment. Instead, I will be developing the stuff on my own laptop. Then, I will require a service to deploy the stuff on the server.
    • I will walk you through setting up the Web Deploy on server.
    • I will walk you through setting up the publish profile file, to be used while publishing the web application to server through Visual Studio.
  4. Publishing and running the web application.

I assume you have the basic ideas and understanding of how this stuff works, what a server is, how your web applications work, how IP addressing works and what a DNS is. I will try my best to explain these components to you too, but if I miss out anything, excuse me. Sometimes my posts do get hard to understand, if they do, just ping me and I will make things clear, it’s really hard to think of so many things at the same time…😉

Now, I will break the procedure down and will write about them in steps.

Setting up the server

First of all, let’s talk about setting up the server. Nothing special here, just installation of Windows Server. I could have used other servers, but then I would have needed to add patches to my applications and so on. So, instead of this, I would recommend that you just install Windows Server on your machine. You can get an evaluation copy from Microsoft, Try Windows Server 2012. Later, just install the Windows Server, I am sure you know how to do that. Also before you continue, please read the requirements for Windows Server.

You can find the explanation and procedures for installing Windows Server online. Learning procedures are also very much simple. Microsoft itself has invested a lot of good resources online for teaching and fine-tuning IT professionals. So you can learn using Windows Server from there too.

References:

  1. What’s New in Windows Server 2012 R2 Jump Start
  2. Windows Server 2012: Web and Application Platform

Configuring the IP address to be used

If you have ever been in networking, then you already know that every device has an IP address that is used to communicate with it. Since, our server will be the hub for our communications. We need to ensure that the IP address doesn’t change. So, we would assign the IP address to our server which we would like to be used throughout the network.

Note: I will later talk about using hostnames and how to setup DNS servers on your servers for friendly URLs. For this post, let’s keep things simple and numeric.

To open the configuration window, follow the steps:

  1. Open the Network and Sharing center.
  2. Select “Change adapter settings”
  3. Select the device that you are connecting through. There may be an Ethernet connection and a Wireless connection available. Select the one that you want to use. Right click → Open the Properties Window.
  4. We are going to update the IPv4 settings and we are just going to assign the IP address we want the device to use. So, in the list provided, select the option with “Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4)”. Double click.

By default, mostly, “Obtain an IP address automatically” is selected, we are going to override the default settings so we need to change this option to the one that we want. But remember, we don’t want to tinker with the DNS, Subnet mask and the gateway being used. First things that you need to understand are the local addresses in the IPv4 range. A private IP address belongs to the local network instead of the external networks such as Internet. The local IP address ranges are:

  1. 10.0.0.0 to 10.255.255.255
  2. 172.16.0.0 to 172.31.255.255
  3. 192.168.0.0 to 192.168.255.255

So, you can use any of the range from this, and assign this IP to your server. Your router will be able to detect the computer, however, the request won’t be sent to external networks because that is not where the IP address belongs to; local network’s IP address. So, according to my own address, network system and addresses. I will set things to the default ones that my ISP provides me with but will select a random IP address from the local range.

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Figure 1: Configuring the IP address for the server.

Later, we will be using a DNS server to configure how we use the service on our devices and so on. Until this step, our server is set up and we can now install the web server to handle the incoming requests and to forward them to a “web application”. Head on to the next step.

Installing the components — and IIS

In Windows Server, you don’t have to get the executables for everything, instead you just enable and disable the services, much like Turning Windows feature on or off. In Windows Server, open your Server Manager.

13288130_1069204476479760_1806657737_oFigure 2: Server Manager application in Windows Server.

In that,

  1. Select “Add roles and features”. This feature is used to add more services to the environment and to add or remove features from the server.
  2. Select “Role-based or feature-based installation”.
  3. Select the server. By default there will be just one server listed. If you have multiple, select the one that you want to use for the installation of the feature.
  4. Select the features and roles that you want to install on your machine.
    • For this section, I will just install IIS server. Select “Web Server (IIS)” and install. It is also recommended that you install .NET 4.5 features from the features list.
    • Add more features as per requirement of your server and the services that you are going to build for.
  5. Finally Install the selected components.

I typically do a machine restart after installing every component or service. This is not required all the times however, most of the times you should restart the machine to ensure that the components are installed and are running properly.

Now let’s dissect IIS sections in bits and study what we got there… To start IIS manager, open the Start menu and search for “inetmgr“, it would give you the application for IIS server.

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Figure 3: IIS server main page shown.

You can see that this portal now lets you create new sites, connect to applications, configure the server properties, their IP addresses, domains. Even it allows you to get helpful material from peers such as TechNet, ASP.NET official website, IIS official website and much more. Navigate down to the server, by default IIS has a “Default Web Site” web site created in the environment, which is used to test whether the server works or not. You can here configure and update the server itself. You can modify the certificates, HTTP handlers, SMTP management and everything that is related to your server. Usually, everything will be managed automatically, you won’t need to do anything complex. However, in many cases you will personally have to change the state of the machine and the framework.

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Figure 4: Default Web Site home page visible in IIS server.

I had installed other components related to ASP.NET itself, which may not be visible in your machine at the moment. If everything is similar, great, if not, continue reading as I will also teach you about configuring the ASP.NET framework on Windows Server.

Look to the right panel, it contains everything that you want to do with your application. It contains quick actions such as restarting the application, configuring the application, installing more services from built in galleries and much more.

Web Platform Installer

Another excellent feature to talk about here is the Web Platform Installer. This application allows you to install the best of the Microsoft products in no time. It scans your machine, checks it for updates, new software package releases and allows you to install them by directly downloading the packages on your machine.

main-webpi-download
Figure 5: Web Platform Installer can be used to install any software package relative to your machine architecture and operating system.

I wanted to talk about this great product by Microsoft, I have really enjoyed it since my days when I was starting learning how to program using WebMatrix. I really miss that tool too, but since Microsoft is no longer updating it, and Visual Studio is a beast, I don’t use or recommend it to anyone.

References:

  1. Adding Server Roles and Features
  2. Official IIS website

Setting up ASP.NET environment

Installing the IIS itself is not enough, ASP.NET doesn’t come pre-shipped with it. You need to go to Server Manager and install the ASP.NET components, I suggest you install maximum of these components. Although, they are not required and only those components are required which you are going to use and which would be required in the production application. In the roles section, go to, Web Server → Web Server → Application Development.

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Figure 6: Installation of ASP.NET feature on Windows Server.

Select the frameworks that you want to install on your machine. They are required before you can actually publish the stuff on your server. I selected ASP.NET 4.5 and the platform select the dependencies to be installed. I had already installed the framework so it turned that to gray in color to show that the selection is disabled. If you want to select any more features that you want, such as Classic ASP (by the way, why?) then you can select that from the list and then finally go to the final stage and click, “Install”.

This would take some time, depending on many things, such as internet connection, your machine hardware, etc.

I suggest you restart the machine, to ensure things are working properly. Now that everything has been set up, we now need to publish an application to our server that we would be using through that IP address that we just assigned to our servers. But before we do so, it won’t be a good idea to always go back and copy paste or send the files and then replace the files here and there. Even though this is a personal project, things may get really tough and confusing when you have to publish the changes to the server. So, for that sake, we are going to use Web Deploy tool and we are going to connect our development tools with the server itself. You must be familiar with Web Deploy tool, aren’t you?

Setting up Web Deploy

Before continuing to the final stages, I wanted to ensure that all of my changes can be pushed to the servers without having to change and update the content myself. Microsoft Web Deploy is one such feature. It allows you to deploy the content remotely, updating the registries, files and other stuff. However, we are interested in another feature, “Publish Profile” file generation. This is a plain-XML file, used to configure the deployment process of the machines. Currently, Web Deploy 3.6 has been released.

Web Deploy would allow you to publish the changes to your project to your server, hosting environment, in no time! I really love this feature because I have been working on a few updates for my website and Web Deploy proved itself to be very simple, through the procedures like publish profile files where settings are saved in XML, and Visual Studio takes care of connections and publishing. To install Web Deploy, you need to enable the “Windows Deployment Services” role in Server Manager. This role would allow your server to be connected through remote devices for publishing purposes. Later, you can use the Web Platform Installer to install the Web Deploy service.

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Figure 7: Windows Deployment Services option shown in gray; third last.

Web PI manages most of the dependencies itself. So, if you select a framework or package to be installed, Web PI would itself manage the dependencies that a package requires to be existing on the machine environment.

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Figure 8: Web PI showing the list of Web Deploy packages found on the servers.

We’re — almost — done now. The final step is to configure the publish profile file. We would be using that file in our development environment to publish the web application.

References:

  1. Web Deploy
  2. Installing and Configuring Web Deploy on IIS 8.0 or Later

Configuring deployment options

Every application requires a different directory, thus every web application would require a different profile to be used while deploying the application to the servers. I am going to talk about the default ones. The default web site can be configured to support Web Deploy based remote deployment of the application’s source code.

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Figure 9: Configuring the web deploy publishing option in web application in IIS manager.

Next you will select the settings that you want to do for the publishing of the application. They are simple and easy to understand.

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Figure 10: Web Deploy configuration window.

I will now walk you through these options that you can configure as per your own needs.

  1. User: This is the user account that you will use to publish the website on behalf of. You should create a separate user account and then use their configuration as the authentication while publishing. I used the administrator account because I wanted to keep things simple.
  2. SQL Server connection string: The connection string to be used, for SQL Server.
  3. MySQL connection string: Same as above, but for MySQL instead.
  4. URL: This is the location where the server resides.
  5. Location: This is where you will find this publish profile file once it has been saved.

Once you are happy with the settings, just click, “Setup”. This would process the settings and will finally create the file for you to send over to your development environment. I will leave the development stages and steps for sake of simplicity, instead I will continue to publishing step. I will, however, be adding the references to my previous posts related to ASP.NET programming.

Publishing and running the web application

Once everything has been done, you can just send the publish profile to your development environment to publish the web application. You can send it through any method, any medium as required.

To proceed, select Build → Publish {ProjectName}. This would allow you to select from a bunch of options, what you want to do. Click on “Import” and then select the publish profile file, this would allow you to select the same settings that you have configured from your server.

Screenshot (7025)
Figure 11: Publish dialog in Visual Studio.

Select the file that you just pushed to the development environment. VIsual Studio would automatically read the file and would fill the fields.

The actual XML file content are:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<publishData>
  <publishProfile
     publishUrl="https://WIN-UEN6KL61CTO:8172/msdeploy.axd"
     msdeploySite="Default Web Site"
     destinationAppUrl="http://WIN-UEN6KL61CTO:80/"
     mySQLDBConnectionString=""
     SQLServerDBConnectionString=""
     profileName="Default Settings"
     publishMethod="MSDeploy"
     userName="WIN-UEN6KL61CTO\Administrator" />
</publishData>

These are the similar values that we had. Now, we can see in the following image that Visual Studio uses the same values and builds the procedure itself. It would use these values to publish the web application.

Screenshot (7026)
Figure 12: Settings for publish profiles in Visual Studio.

It is not required, but you should at least test the connection. This would allow you to test the connection before pushing the web content to the destination.

Note that the “Password” field is empty. Password was not sent on the wire. We are required to enter the password for that user account; that server password. This step depends on how you design the system to publish the web application, if you use another account which doesn’t require the password, this would be a stupid idea in my opinion. So always keep an account (also, remember to keep an account other than the Admin account) and use its credentials. Use SSL to transfer the content on your production servers. After that, you should be able to submit the web application to the server.

Tuning and configuring

Not all the times a web application would work in its first attempt. You will face many problems, many hurdles. There are many good communities available which you can use to ask for help when you run into trouble. Just ensure that you understand what runtime is your application asking for, and which is available and much more.

I won’t write the ASP.NET code here, instead I will just show the default page content that my application has, before I actually show the rendering result of that page.

<p style="font-size: 10em;">Welcome :-)</p>

That would be enough to test the application.🙂

Screenshot (7027)
Figure 13: Welcome message shown on the homepage of website.

As expected, notice two things.

  1. The IP address that we had set up for the server.
  2. Message that we had wanted to be shown on the browser screen.

This shows that we have now set up the server as we would want to. We can now continue to add more features to it and keep working on them to bring them to devices.😉 Also, did you notice that I also have API in the navigation menu. It means that I will also post stuff about consuming the Web API through native mobile devices. Many things are coming during these 2 months. I would like you guys to let me know if you find that I have missed something from the post.

Points of Interest

I did have to go through a few problems, because of the resources being locked by IIS. Then there were a few problems with the .NET framework mismatch. Anyways, the process was very simple, robust and fast. I enjoyed building the server and the consumption of the web application.

I did not introduce database usage, authentication, which will be handled later in other posts. However, this post was just intended to explain the basic concepts of building up your own custom server for your own purposes. I will be posting other stuff that I find interesting in this process. I am also going to write it up as a guide that you may want to download later from C# Corner. I really like their way of publishing the content, you can get more of their eBooks from their community website.

I hope, you find this post interesting and simple to grasp. Phew! See you next time.🙂

Why to use C# and when to prefer other languages?!

Introduction and Background

Either it is Quora, or is it C# Corner or is it CodeProject, beginners and novice users are always asking questions like, “Which one to use, C++ or C#?”, and many more similar questions. It is harder to provide an answer to such questions on multiple platforms and to multiple questions. That is why, I thought, why not post a blog post to cover most of the aspects of the question. In this post I am going to cover a few of the concepts that you may want to understand to chose either language from the most widely used languages:

  1. C or C++
  2. Java
  3. C# (or .NET framework itself)

Basically, my own preference in many cases is C#, but that depends on what I am going to build. I have been using C, C++, Java and C# in many applications depending on their needs, depending on how they allow me to write the programs and depending on whether it is the suitable programming language for this type of project and application architecture.

The way, I do that, is just a trick. Which, I am going to share with you, in this blog post. Among these a few of the very basic things to consider are:

  1. How simple and easy it would be to use this language in the program?
  2. What is the productivity of that language in your scenario!
  3. Difficulty level and how many people know the language!

I will be talking about these things points in this post, so to make it clear where to use which programming language. But my major concern in this post would be to cover the aspects of C# programming language.

Productivity of language

First thing to always consider about the language is the productivity that a programming language can provide your team with. Productivity of the language depends on many factors, such as:

  1. How programs are built in that language?
  2. How fast and reliable is it to build the project regularly?
  3. Is the program’s source code readable for other members on the team?
  4. Is the language itself suitable for the case that we are going to use it in.

Productivity of the language, in my opinion, is the first thing to consider as the valid candidate to always discuss in the team and not just talk about in a black room. You should manage to get your teams up in a conference room, and then talk about a language. There may be many aspects where one language may fall short and other may get well. There would be many factors that most of the programmers don’t know but talking about them one of the geek would stand up and raise another important point that may guide your team to walk on the correct paths to build greater applications.

Let’s talk a bit graph.

chart
Figure 1: Productivity graph of most widely used programming languages.

In this chart we can see that C is the most productive programming language, of which we are interested in; C, C++, Java and C#. C++ and C# are competing with each other, whereas Java is a bit behind than C# and so on.

In the above graph, it is clear that C# is an average programming language. The average doesn’t mean it is below the requirement. But it means that it can be used in any case, and its performance won’t fall as the data increases. The successful run graph shows that C# programs are much successful in many cases. That is why, in many cases, C# proves to be the valid candidate in many cases, since it is a general purpose programming language.

Then the question arises, “Productive in which sense?

That is the most important part here. Now, this topic may take a bit more of the time to explain how productive a language is. For that, I have dedicated the topic, “Choosing the right language for the right task“. The right programming language for the right task would always help you to elevate the speed of the programming of your team! But among other aspects, the most important ones are:

  1. What sort of project this is?
    • Of course you don’t want to use knife to unscrew a screw.
  2. What are the IDE and compilation tools present?
    • Even a program written in C can go wrong if compile is buggy or inefficient.
  3. How your team would like to manage the projects?
    • Does the language support good software engineering concepts?
    • Can it be used to generate good diagrams: Use-case, activity, class and other diagrams.

Thus, you should always consider thinking about the productivity of your development team while guessing which language to be used.

Choosing the right language for the right task

It is always stated to use the best tool for the best jobs! Then, why not use the best programming language for your projects, to get the best possible results? Before I continue any further, there is one thing I want to mentioned… “There is no best programming language ever built.” Every time a programming language is built for a purpose, another group of programmers jump in to create a new programming language, for the sake of fixing the errors in the previous language. What do you think motivated Bjarne to create C++ when there was C language and Scala already in the market?

In this section, there are many things to consider, from the performance and benefits to the clients, to the perk packages for the employees to the efficiencies of the project repositories and the tools provided for that programming languages.

C# was created by Microsoft and therefore, in my opinion, has, by far, the most efficient tools for programming. I mean, Visual Studio, alone is the beast in this game.

visual-studio-2013-logo
Figure 2: Visual Studio logo.

I am a huge fan of Visual Studio, and i would doubt someone who isn’t a fan of Visual Studio. C# has a better support and benefit of using the best IDE out there. Java has also a number of IDE, so does C++ and many of the C programs are written in minimal environments, like a small program to manage and compile the C programs; no offence geeks!

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Figure 3: Graph of performance to safety ratio.

Now, if you look at this graph, it’s pretty much clear as to what it is trying to guide you with. Of course, as I had mentioned in the starting paragraph here, that there is no best programming language.

In many cases, C# and Java rule over C++ (and C) and in many cases, they rule over C# and Java. There are many factors, like the programming paradigms, performance of the code that is generated; Just-in-time compilation, memory-management delay and so on. While C# and Java may provide the best environment to build “managed” programs in, there are many cases where C# and java don’t work well, like writing a low-level program. Java developers wanted to build a Java OS, but they had to give up because something’s aren’t meant to be done in Java.🙂

Always consider to search before making the final call. There are many companies working in the similar field that you are going to work in. There would be many packages and languages built for your own field that may help you to get started in no time!

top201020programming20languages-100422646-orig
Figure 4: Top 10 programming languages.

But, I think these are a bit backwards. I think, C is on the top because it causes a lot of trouble to beginners, so everyone is searching for “How to do {this} in C” on Google, raising the rankings.😉

Selecting the best framework

I don’t totally agree with people when it comes to talk about frameworks like, Java, Qt (which I do like in many cases; like Ubuntu programming), and other programming frameworks available for programming applications to be run despite the architecture of the machine. In this case, my recommendation and personal views for .NET framework are very positive. As, already mentioned, I have programmed on Qt framework for Android, Ubuntu and Linux itself. It was a really very powerful framework to build applications on. But the downside was it was tough to learn, their compilers were modified, their C++ was tinkered.

While selecting the best framework for application development by choices are below:

  1. How much flexible a framework is?
  2. What language does it support?
    • Some frameworks support multiple languages, like .NET framework, it supports C#, VB.NET, Visual C++, JavaScript applications.
  3. Is it cross-platform?
  4. If not cross-platform, then does it support multiple architectures, at least?

Java framework is cross-platform, and entirely framework oriented. You simply have to target the framework despite the operating system or architecture being used. .NET framework on the other hand is a very beautiful framework to write applications on. It uses C#, VB.NET and C++ (no Java!) to write the applications, and then the compiled binaries can be executed on many machines that can support .NET framework. This provides an excellent cross-architecture support.

C# however, does not support Mac OS X, at the moment. Microsoft has started to roll out cross-platform binaries for C# programs. .NET Core has been a great success and once it gets released to a public version, I am sure most of the companies would start to target it. That is not going to happen, in a near future. In which case, Java and C++ are better than C#.

If you are interested in C# programming on multiple platforms, consider using Mono Project instead. You can read about that, on my blog here: Using C# for cross-platform development.

spectrum
Figure 5: Top languages and their platforms of usage.

Java may be supported 100% in the rankings, but C# is also supporting multiple platforms and is rapidly growing making the language better than the rest. With the release of C# 6, Microsoft has proved that the language is much better than the rest in the race. There are many features that I like C# 6:

  1. String interpolation
  2. Getter-only auto-properties as lambdas
  3. Improvements to lambdas

There are a few things Java still doesn’t have. For example, one statement code to write the data to the files and to extract the data. You have to get messy in the streams, or you have to write an entirely non-intuitive code with Files object and then to get the data from there… Yuk!

Performance of the compiled code

Writing the source code may be different in many ways:

  1. Syntax of the programming language.
  2. The way their objects and procedures are imported in the source code.
  3. How clean the source code looks. Many programming languages are just nightmares.

But the major concern comes to mind when we are going to execute the programs. In many cases, or should I say in all the cases, the language which are bytecoded languages, lag behind than the languages that are compiled to native codes or Assembly codes. For example, C or C++ codes are faster, because they are not compiled to a bytecode instead they are generated as machine codes for a platform or architecture. C# or Java programs are compiled down to a bytecode which causes a JIT to occur when the programs are executed. This takes time.

However, you can see the following charts from https://attractivechaos.github.io/plb/ and see for yourself, the way bytecoded languages are similar and how much compiled languages are different, see for yourself.

plb-lang
Figure 6: Mathematical calculations.
plb-lib
Figure 7: Pattern matching and machine learning.

Which makes it pretty much clear, how much compiled language are faster than bytecoded, and then come the ones that are interpreted, like Ruby.

In many cases, there are other factors too, which cause bad performance:

  1. Bad compiler.
  2. A lot of resources being allocated.
  3. Slow hardware resources; bad combination of CPU, RAM and other peripherals.
  4. Bad programmer and bad code being used.
  5. Bad practices of programming.
  6. Keeping CPU halted for most of the times.

Much more are a valid candidates for the halting processes.

Finally… Final words

As I have already mentioned that there is no best programming language out there. One language is best in one case, other is best in another case and so on and so forth. In such cases, it is always better to communicate with your development team and then ask them questions and ask for their feedbacks. Choosing the good tools for your projects is always a good approach and good step in the process of programming.

If your software engineer or software architect are trying to find a good solution, ask them to work on the following questions:

  1. What are the teams and developers qualified for?
    • Asking a team of C++ programmers to leave C++ and join Java or C# programming teams is not a good idea!
    • Always consider the best approach.
    • Time is money — Manage it with care.
    • Recruit more programmers with skills.
  2. Is the programming language long lived, or a minor one?
  3. Is programming language capable of making your application work?
    • I have used many programming languages, and thus I can decide which language to use. This is the job of your software architect to decide which languages to select.

If you follow these rules, you will save yourself from many of the future questions that cause a lot of problems. Many times developers ask questions like, “I have an application in Java, how to migrate it to C#?” Many web developers ask questions like, “I have a PHP application, how to convert PHP code to ASP.NET?” These questions have only answer. “Re-write the applications”.

There are many things that you should consider before designing the applications. Facebook is stuck with PHP, because it was written in PHP. Even if they wanted to migrate to ASP.NET, they won’t. Instead, they have found a work around the PHP bugs and downsides.

This is why, you should always consider using a conference or meeting to decide how to start the project, which programming language to use, what frameworks to target, who would lead the team and much more. These few days of discussion and designing would save you a lot of money and time in future.